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Doug's Blog


Calgary kids are losing their teeth
- get that fluoride back, pronto!

19th February 2016

Calgary Stampede race

So, if you believe the pundits, if a community water supply has been fluoridated , then stopping water fluoridation allows dental decay to increase again. Never mind that the evidence that putting the stuff into the water doesn't actually stop it anyway. How in God's name can getting rid of it again actually make things worse?

But let's not allow our prejudices to get in the way of reason. Those excellent researchers at the University of Calgary – the people who were so exercised by the proposal to stop dosing their kids with fluoride back in 2011 – have carried out research.

Well, that's what they do, nowadays. They've compared the decay in the teeth of kids in Calgary – disgracefully deprived of fluoride – and those of kids in Edmonton, where they continue to enjoy the benefits of fluoridation. And they have confirmed to their entire satisfaction that it hasn't made a blind bit of difference!

Of course, they can't actually say that. I mean, if you're a Believer, then anything that casts doubt on the religion is abhorrent and to be denied. So they take refuge in weasel words that, like the Doublespeak of George Orwell's 1984 have two entirely opposing meanings at the same time.

Our redoubtable researchers find that tooth decay in both cites has gone up a bit recently, regardless of deliberate contamination of the water or not. And what's more, it was a 'significant' increase. In both of them, too. Damn!

Ah, but they say, that increase was greater in fluoride-deprived Calgary. And what's more, they've got a Poisson regression curve to prove it, so there! Some of the data from this wonderful new study, plus some from another of their efforts, curiously 'unpublished' (so some Journals are getting a bit fussy about what they print, then?) were sadly somewhat 'muted' when they compared tooth surfaces (not whole teeth).

Yet adopting this same method of measuring tooth decay for this new study was supposed to give a better indication of what happened in these two cities recently. Strange that, or even just a little inconvenient.

I'll skip the complicated-looking statistical analysis our experts used to come to their conclusions. The upshot of it all is just this – the study did not find any reliable evidence whatever that stopping fluoridation made the slightest bit of difference to kids' teeth in Calgary.

To save face they remarked on a 'trend' towards more decay, but admitted that the difference 'hinted at an early indication' (their very words) of a decline, but the differences observed were not significant.

'Hinted'? What the Hell is going on here? Look, I know these guys are supposed to be scientists and all that, but surely they learned in their earliest indoctrination into that discipline four fundamental rules. Ignore these – or any one of them - and you're outside the boundaries of science and into good old-fashioned fairyland again

One – Comparing two cities out of dozens is not a good way to see what's happening out there in the real world. Just because something changes somewhere, you need more than wishful thinking to justify presuming that the reason is something that you have a special interest in proving.

There could be any number of other things going on that are not identical in those two locations you've selected. The old habit of 'cherry-picking' the sites, so beloved of fluoridationists, is a real and present danger, especially when, like this one, the study is not 'blinded'. Unless you read the published literature on just how prejudiced the results of non-blinded experiments really are, you'd easily be fooled by the self-delusions of those engaged in such efforts.

Our redoubtable researchers admit that their results are not consistent with those of two other studies in a different Canadian city. Well that's a nuisance, isn't it? But then they casually dismiss this inconvenience with a few well-chosen but entirely arbitrary possible reasons. That's not science, that's just silly prejudice.

Two – remember at all time that old warning that the Courts are so strict about, that correlation is not proof of causation. This really is right at the heart of the scientific method, and anything less is no better than alchemy and wishful-thinking.

Try such arguments on in Court and you'll experience one of the least pleasant session of interrogation that you're ever likely to have to endure. Public humiliation will undoubtedly follow.

Three - just because two measurements are significantly different, that does NOT mean that they are actually important, nor does it mean that you've found out the real reason for the difference. Falling back on possible, non-significant 'trends' just reveals how damned feeble your research methodology really was.

If you can't disprove your initial hypothesis (the science thing again) that stopping water fluoridation does not affect dental decay – then don't try to claim that it does. These researchers appear to have convinced themselves that they've spotted a non-significant trend that hints that, given more life-sustaining research funds, they might one day, be able to harden things up a bit.

And four – get real. Claiming that your findings 'contribute to the published literature on fluoridation cessation and impact on dental caries.' is pure hogwash. The only contribution that this rambling and hyperventilating study provides to the literature is that it simply deepens the rubbish littering this already grossly over-researched field.

Whatever the prevailing and somewhat materialistic approach to public health ethics says about the morality of mass-medication (and yes it IS medication without consent), if an intervention is unethical – and even under most administrations, illegitimate - then no amount of research, good or especially bad, is justified in trying to decide if it actually works well enough to overthrow fundamental principles of ethics and human rights.


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